Online Architectural Design Universities: How to Choose

There are a number of factors students may want to keep in mind when considering what architectural program to choose. Below, we'll discuss a few of these factors, including the type of degree and career wanted, program accreditation and whether or not programs require any on-campus classes or residencies.

How to Select an Online Architectural Design School

Architects design buildings, commercial spaces and landscapes. Some also pursue research and teaching positions in the field. To become an architect, individuals must first earn at least a professional Bachelor of Architecture (B. Arch.) degree. These programs last five years (as opposed to the standard four years of undergraduate study) and are not available online. Those wishing to advance their studies online, as well as individuals who do not have a B. Arch., can find Master of Architecture and Master of Science in Architecture hybrid programs at select colleges and universities.

Type of Degree and Licensure

Architects must be licensed. Typically, after graduating with an accredited professional degree, individuals start their careers with a 3-year paid internship, after which they can take the licensing exam. Master of Architecture (M. Arch.) programs are open to students with a bachelor's degree in architecture as well as for those who hold a degree in an unrelated field. This is a professional degree program qualifying graduates for licensure.

By contrast, the Master of Science in Architecture is for those interested in pursuing research in the field of architecture. It is appropriate for licensed architects and others, and prepares students to continue their studies through a doctoral degree program or to enter an academic career teaching design and architectural planning. Unlike the M. Arch., the M.S. does not lead to licensure as an architect by itself.


Interested candidates should seek M. Arch. programs approved by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). Graduation from a NAAB-accredited program is necessary for licensure in the majority of states.

On-Campus Components

To accommodate working students, universities typically host studio courses on campus during the summer, on the weekends and during daytime hours. Participants learn how to research and survey a public space, as well as how to define, expand and apply conceptual ideas and carry them out in a finished architectural project. Students also have a chance to work with an adviser on a thesis design project. Although the experience is not required, a number of architecture departments stress the benefits of studying abroad.

Common Online Programs in Architectural Design

Master of Architecture

This hybrid program consists of online lecture and seminar courses and on-campus studio courses. Seminar and lecture courses cover core architecture topics such as design theory, architecture law and history of architecture. Concentration options are common, and include such topics as:

  • Environmental design
  • Urban design
  • Health center design
  • Ecological issues

Master of Science in Architecture

In this hybrid program, with both online and on-campus courses, participants conduct research through an individualized course sequence approved by an instructor. They can graduate in as little as one year, during which time they must also develop and write a thesis. Course topics include:

  • Building materials
  • Universal design and accessibility
  • Construction materials
  • Aesthetics of design
  • Architecture history

Schools with Online Architectural Design Degrees

The University of Missouri offers both M.S. and M.A. degrees in architectural studies with an emphasis in environment and behavior studies. Students can complete this program entirely online without ever having to go to campus. However, there is a week-long campus workshop offered each summer that students can choose to attend if they want to present their research or talk with professors. The M.S. program differs from the M.A. program in that it culminates in a written thesis, whereas the M.A. requires a final project that does not necessarily have to take the form of a traditional written thesis. Students must have at least a 3.0 GPA in the last 60 credits of undergraduate courses they took as well as a bachelor's degree in order to apply.

Lawrence Technological University offers an online Master of Architecture degree that is comprised of 36 credits. Thirty-two of these credits can be completed online, while the remaining four must be completed in a studio course on the LTU campus during the summer. This program is designed for professionals who are already working in the architectural field and are hoping to further their career and qualify for more advanced positions. To apply to this program, students must possess a bachelor's degree in architecture, have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and submit letters of recommendation along with a resume, an essay and a professional portfolio of all past work.

In summary, students have a couple of options when seeking online architecture degrees. Whether or not they have studied architecture in the past, how long they want to spend in school, and their ability to complete residency requirements will all be factors in their decision regarding what program to choose.

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